CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Matt DiBenedetto’s persistence and determination to better his own situation ultimately paid off on Wednesday with the announcement that he will join Leavine Family Racing next season.
It was impossible to miss his megawatt smile as he took interviews at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, as well. DiBenedetto’s enthusiasm for what’s to come with his new team – which will join the Toyota camp and have a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing – was clearly visible and easily understandable.
After all, the 27-year-old native of Grass Valley, Calif., took a major leap by electing not to return to his current team – Go Fas Racing – in favor of hopefully advancing his place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Therefore DiBenedetto’s happiness on Wednesday came, in large part, due to the fact that the chance he took and his never-give-up attitude paid off with what he called the biggest opportunity of his career.
“I’ve been lucky to develop a great relationship with Bob Leavine and the folks at LFR just over the past couple of years, strictly by being persistent. Bob is a very straightforward guy, so I knew when he said he wanted to talk to me about the seat that I had an opportunity to get in the door there,” said DiBenedetto. “To say I was persistent is an understatement, and I exhausted all resources in pursuing this deal … even going back to the folks at Joe Gibbs Racing and my connections at Toyota.
“It was amazing to learn that I had an opportunity, and when the door was slightly open I made sure I busted all the way inside it.”
DiBenedetto confirmed that when he made the decision to depart the No. 32 team at the end of the season, he was doing so with no opportunity in his back pocket and no hidden aces up his sleeve.
His decision was akin to jumping out of a plane without a parachute, only to grab hold of a lifeline in mid-air and glide safely to the ground.
“I believe, in my heart, that everything happens for a reason and that everything has happened for a reason to get me to where I am today,” DiBenedetto pointed out. “I think our paths were meant to cross and we were meant to be together for next year.
“It’s a relief that my bet on myself has paid off,” he continued. “When I made the decision (to leave Go Fas Racing), I genuinely had absolutely nothing. It was a full leap of faith and a blank slate. I’m relieved that I came out on top and that I will be a part of this organization.”
While Leavine Family Racing was DiBenedetto’s final landing point, he admitted that he did discuss the possibility of going elsewhere with other teams, though he declined to name any others specifically.
“I did have some talks with a couple of people, but this all came about pretty recently. This was what I had my eye and my focus on, though,” he stressed. “This was the biggest opportunity of my life that was sitting here in front of me, so I made sure I put all my effort into making it happen.”
Next year will bring DiBenedetto’s career full circle, as he rejoins the Toyota family after starting his career at 18 in a Joe Gibbs Racing Camry, running part time in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the NASCAR Xfinity Series and earning two K&N East wins along the way.
It’s a return that the driver feels comes at the perfect time and will be near-seamless for him, he said.
“This being a homecoming to Toyota is going to be great, because I’m already so comfortable in the Toyota camp,” noted DiBenedetto. “I’ve been to their facility in Salisbury many times, so I’m very familiar with how their group operates. It’s a small group, but they do nothing but the best.
“I feel that the transition is going to be very comfortable, because I know that Bob Leavine, Jeremy (Lange, general manager) and all the folks at LFR really well and I’m coming back home, where I belong, within the Toyota family as well.”
When asked about his goals for next year, DiBenedetto was simplistic in his response. He’s not focused on the hard numbers; he’s worried about the growth of the team.
Results, he believes, will come as the group progresses together.
“I don’t like to put numbers on these things, but I know that in general … with the switch to Toyota and being a part of the TRD group, being with Leavine Family Racing will be a good thing for me because these guys want to be better,” said DiBenedetto. “They dump their hearts and souls into this team and they want to perform at the highest level.
“I think we’re going to be able to go out next year, shock some people and show everyone what we’re made of. I feel lucky to be part of a growing team.”